Orangutans (Pongo spp.) may prefer tools with rigid properties to flimsy tools

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Kristina R. Walkup, Robert W. Shumaker, Jill D. Pruetz
Journal of Comparative Psychology
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1939-2087 0735-7036

Preference for tools with either rigid or flexible properties was explored in orangutans (Pongo spp.) through an extension of D. J. Povinelli, J. E. Reaux, and L. A. Theall’s (2000) flimsy-tool problem. Three captive orangutans were presented with three unfamiliar pairs of tools to solve a novel problem. Although each orangutan has spontaneously used tools in the past, the tools presented in this study were novel to the apes. Each pair of tools contained one tool with rigid properties (functional) and one tool with flimsy properties (nonfunctional). Solving the problem required selection of a rigid tool to retrieve a food reward. The functional tool was selected in nearly all trials. Moreover, two of the orangutans demonstrated this within the first test trials with each of the three tool types. Although further research is required to test this statistically, it suggests either a preexisting preference for rigid tools or comprehension of the relevant features required in a tool to solve the task. The results of this study demonstrate that orangutans can recognize, or learn to recognize, relevant tool properties and can choose an appropriate tool to solve a problem


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